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Cowabunga! It's Real Net Surfin' USA

Internet: Web sites feature pictures of conditions at Huntington and other local beaches.


HUNTINGTON BEACH — Dude, you're going to be stoked by the latest wave in surfing.

Cameras, hidden in dunes or mounted atop beachfront structures from Malibu to Oceanside, are snapping pictures of surf conditions and beaming the images to the Internet.

Click: Monster break at Malibu.

Click: Three to four and glassy at Huntington Pier.

Click: Major tubes at Trestles.

The latest ripple on the Internet is giving the phrase "surfing the Net" a whole new meaning. And it's turning beach bums into techno-wizards.

"I check out the waves on my computer every morning and decide whether I'm going to work or going to the beach," said Tom Kennedy, a body-boarder who owns an insurance agency in Mission Viejo. "The computer saves me a drive to the beach."

At least a half-dozen Southern California companies and foundations have set up sites on the Internet that allow browsers to view close-up color photos of breaking waves. The photos, updated every hour on some Web sites, are adorned with information on wave size, water temperature, tides and wind speed.

"We have people from all over the world looking at our waves," said Ken Torimaru, whose company, Surfspot, operates a surf camera at the Huntington Beach Pier.


Last month, in one of the more ambitious projects, a Huntington Beach company called SurfLink cranked up camera sites at Malibu, the Huntington Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach and Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

Using technology provided by GTE, SurfLink employs cameras that transmit images to its Web site via cellular phone transceivers. The photo is updated each hour.

By the end of the year, Mark Bertignoli, SurfLink's president, hopes to convert the wave images to nonstop video.

"I love surfing, and I was looking for a way to put surfing on the Web," Bertignoli said. "This is it."

The computerized surf reports are threatening to alter the age-old practice of driving to the beach and checking out the waves before deciding whether to get wet. If the waves are flat, the Internet photos could save surfers who live miles inland a long drive to the beach.

"They won't have to battle the traffic," said Babsky of the Surfrider Foundation.


Kennedy, the insurance agent, lives in Mission Viejo, a 30-minute drive from the San Clemente beach where he surfs.

If surfing conditions are poor, "the computer can save me an hour's drive," Kennedy said.

Yet for all the hoopla, some mainstream surfing institutions have reacted coolly to the introduction of high-tech to their sport, which has long prided itself on being at one with nature.

"Most surfers are visceral people," said Nick Carroll, executive editor of Surfing magazine in San Clemente. "When they surf, they don't want anything to do with technology. They surf because they want to be close to nature."

And some surfers say they're worried that Southern California's prime breaks, like Malibu and San Clemente, are going to be overrun with geeks and wannabes.

"Guys I surf with say, 'I hope they don't put a camera here,' " said Carroll, who surfs at Trestles in northern San Diego County.

The computerized surf reports grew out of the phone-in services that wave-riders have relied on for years. Surfline/Wavetrak in Huntington Beach, for instance, provides surf conditions--but no photos--from more than 100 U.S. beaches.


Sean Collins, a forecaster at Surfline/Wavetrak, is adding cameras to complement the wave reports. His company currently operates cameras at Huntington Beach Pier and El Porto in Manhattan Beach, and plans to turn on cameras soon at Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica and Sebastian Inlet on Florida's East Coast.

"We're very encouraged by the response we've gotten so far," said Collins.

Surfline/Wavetrack's Internet site gets about 100,000 visits a month, Collins said.

The quality of the surf images varies widely. Some of the photos are clear and sharp. Yet others, even with a high-definition computer screen, look like grainy postcards. Since some of the cameras are fixed and unmanned, the photos they take are sometimes bland and unremarkable.

The fixed cameras are limited in other ways, too. With a huge, televised surf contest going on last week in Huntington Beach, some of the images on the Web showed the beach-front scaffolding erected for the event.

Collins, of Surfline, is able to avoid that problem by controlling his camera from his office with a joystick. And on most Web sites, computer users can peek into a folder and look at all the wave photos from the same day.


Mark Babsky, who maintains the Surfrider Foundation's Web site, does it the old-fashioned way: Each morning, Babsky trots down to the San Clemente Pier and snaps a picture with a camera and posts it on Surfrider's Web site.

One drawback to the Babsky method: When he takes a day off, the photos aren't updated.

"I'll just post a note on the computer that says: 'On Vacation,' " he said.

Like many other services on the Web, the success or failure of many of the surf reports will ride on whether they can attract advertisers. Many of the Web sites carry ads for surf shops, and some sites have been more successful than others at attracting the advertising dollar.

SurfLink, for example, runs ads from GTE Mobilenet.

Bob Barnett, a lawyer and surfer in Santa Monica, says he thinks the Web sites will catch on. The reason, he says, is that great waves are something that most surfers don't ever want to miss.

"I check the waves every morning on the computer," Barnett said, "because when the surf is good, everything else waits."

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